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29 School Counselor Jobs May Be Saved : Education: L.A. district board votes to seek other ways to cut $1.6 million from the budget after it hears emotional appeals to retain the positions.

August 06, 1991|DENISE HAMILTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After emotional appeals on behalf of elementary and junior high school counselors whose jobs are threatened because of budget restraints, the Los Angeles Unified School District board voted Monday to try to find another way to cut $1.6 million and save the positions.

But board members did eliminate 68 high school counselor positions, saying they had to cut somewhere.

"It's a tough call," said board member Jeff Horton. 'We don't want to write off high school students, but sometimes there's a choice to be made and we'd rather do something preventive (at the elementary school level) so that somewhere down the line these kids can be saved."

Board members said they were moved by pleas from elementary and junior high school counselors who work with youngsters traumatized by gang violence, child abuse and other problems. The board had planned to eliminate 15 elementary and 14 junior high positions.

"I implore you to please consider the children," said Principal Joan Humphrey of 24th Street School. Humphrey, whose school may lose its only full-time counselor this fall, says the extra guidance makes a crucial difference with some troubled youngsters.

For instance, Humphrey said, the counselor spent long hours during the last school year working with a fifth-grade girl who was abducted on her way to school and repeatedly raped. The counselor also helped schoolchildren cope with grief after a 2-year-old in their community was killed in a gang shooting.

The pleas prompted board member Barbara Boudreaux, who represents southern and central Los Angeles, to request that the district drop its plans to eliminate the jobs.

"I know the value of these counselors; I've seen them in action," Boudreaux said after the meeting.

Jeff Horton, who represents Silver Lake, Koreatown and the Pico-Union area, which also has many low-income and minority students, agreed. "The return on these services is enough that we can find somewhere else to make the cuts," he said.

The board, which has slashed its $4-billion budget by almost $240 million, scheduled a special meeting for next Tuesday to decide what to do and ordered its staff to determine whether the jobs can be saved.

The proposed cuts were part of a $21-million reallocation of funds involved in the district's integration program, which has been hit by numerous cost increases. The counselor positions are partially paid for by the special funds.

Board members pointed out that saving the elementary and junior high counselor positions may entail cutting other worthwhile programs such as magnet classes, bilingual classes and teaching assistants.

Board member Mark Slavkin, who represents the Westside, said he was concerned that advocates of those programs might appear before the board next week to argue on behalf of their favorite programs.

The counselors told the board that the district will earn back the money it spends on their salaries because their preventive work may help students avoid costly remedial programs.

"Research shows that early intervention is effective in the long run," said Gussie Sitkin, president of the Los Angeles Elementary School Counselors Assn.

Immediate intervention is also often necessary, said Sitkin, recalling that she once worked with a suicidal sixth-grader. "He wanted to see me and talk with me immediately. It's very possible that this child, without someone to talk to, might have succeeded in taking his life."

Added Shirley Autrey, a counselor whose job at Hillcrest Drive Elementary School is scheduled to be eliminated: "Counselors are not cure-alls, but we do teach coping skills."

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